National Geographic : 2016 Mar
76 national geographic • march 2016 Thursday they line up for a paycheck.” Linda Avatituq, a 39-year-old single mother and grandmother, went to work in the mine three years ago. She had driven only a snow- mobile before she took a job driving a massive yellow truck that hauls gold-bearing rock out of the pit. The job pays $80,000 a year. “My life changed a lot after I got the job,” Avatituq says. “I sobered up after that. I can support my fam- ily and my grandkids. My grandson is six years the deep indigo lakes that surround them and protected by an earthen dike. The lakes are full of trout, arctic char, and grayling. Mining waste rises in a 200-foot-high mesa. After it’s capped with 13 feet of clean soil, the mine’s engineers say, the waste mountain will freeze permanently, preventing acids and heavy metals from leaching into the lakes during the sparse summer rains. Though Meadowbank’s ore contains three times the gold concentration of most open-pit gold mines, by 2013 the company had lost more than a billion dollars on the venture and had only five more years of ore left to mine. A new find about 35 miles away may extend the opera- tion another decade and allow it to turn a profit. But like Hammerfest, Baker Lake, population 1,900, has benefited. In the 1950s the Canadian government relocated many Inuit to villages like Baker Lake to provide them schools, health care, and other services. The transition hasn’t been easy. Many Inuit live on public assistance, with two or three families sharing a two-bedroom house. A third of Nunavut’s population of 40,000 doesn’t get enough to eat, according to a 2015 Canadian government report. Alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual assault are common. The sui- cide rate among young men is 40 times the Ca- nadian average. Local leaders say turning Nunavut into Can- ada’s new mining district could help. An iron mine opened on northern Baffin Island in 2014, and elsewhere in Nunavut diamond, gold, and uranium mines are planned. Mines offer plenty of jobs for unskilled workers, from housekeepers to cooks to truck drivers. Before Meadowbank came to town, the unemployment rate in Baker Lake was 30 percent. Today almost anyone who wants a job can find one; the mine employs some 300 Inuit. “Resource development has done more for my community than I ever could imagine,” says Peter Tapatai, a 63-year-old businessman from Baker Lake who handles transportation for the mine. “ When you see a young man and woman working, they’re now part of Canada. They are breadwinners. Our people had no future other than lining up to get welfare checks. Now every Saving every speck, a Meadowbank metallurgist cleans molds of gold that will harden into blocks worth $700,000 each. Yet by 2013 the mine had lost more than a billion dollars. In the Arctic, costs explode.